Planting Containers In June

Waiting to plant seasonal containers until the soil and night temperatures warm up in our zone is an idea of considerable merit. For those of you that read this journal regularly, you already know my point of view. Here me out, again. If you are a client, you have heard me talk about how the best place for tropical plants in May is a greenhouse. Tropical plants that hail from tropical environments have evolved to not only withstand a tropical climate, they thrive in it.  Michigan is anything but tropical. Just a week ago we were having night temperatures in the mid to low 50’s. Tropical plants do not like nor are they likely to adapt to our brisk spring weather. Our spring is just about the equivalent of winter weather to an alocasia, or a solenia begonia in May. May is when gardeners want to plant their containers, but June is better.Tropical plants that go into the ground in anticipation of better weather to come will sulk, be set back, or refuse to grow. I shudder, and have to avert my eyes when I see those huddled masses of fibrous begonias bedded out in commercial settings the first freezing week of May. I am a proponent of planting containers, if only a few key containers, for spring – in an effort to stave off that longing for a summer planting until the time is right. The summer solstice, or longest day of the year, in the northern hemisphere is June 21. Planting summer containers in June helps make a success of all of the work of planting those containers.

Nothing tells a story more succinctly and simply than a picture. These boxes, as well as all the rest of this client’s containers, were planted on June 2. In 28 days, all of these heat loving plants have grown exponentially. Calocasis, begonias of several types, caladiums and licorice like warm soil, and warm temperatures. A good bit of the pleasure of tending containers comes from a collection of plants that are healthy, happy, and growing. In the healthy, happy and growing department, a lot of credit goes to my client Fred P. He is in charge of the watering of all of their container plantings. His watering skill is obvious. The only condition under which begonias fail to thrive is too heavy watering hand. He waters the solenia begonias only when they are truly dry. Their thick succulent stems will rot with too much water.  He tells me it takes all of his willpower to water each plant in this series of boxes individually, but his restraint has paid off. He tell me that he precision waters of of their containers. He never blankets any of his containers with water.  The gorgeous state of all of his container plants is a sure sign of his attention to the individual needs of his seasonal plants. These planters look sensational. It is my opinion that when he waters, he focuses only on that task at hand, and nothing else. Another word for that is relaxation. Another concept for this is that growing plants is good for people. A June planting, a master waterer, and some warm soil and heat-voila.

No plant hates the cold and windy weather more than tomatoes. The size and health of these plants makes it obvious the conditions for growth were right. The basil looks terrific. These tomatoes were 18″ tall when we planted them. The basil were maybe 4″ tall. Summery conditions have enabled them to grow.

The Black and Blue salvia in the centers of these two boxes grow to 40″ tall, and need nearly a season’s worth of time to get to their peak. But I see some signs of early blooms. Happy salvia. As long as the solenia begonias are not over watered, they will bloom profusely into the fall.

New Guinea impatiens are as notoriously adverse to cold weather as are calocasias. Unsurprisingly, New Guinea impatiens are native to New Guinea – the second largest island in the world which is located the the southwest Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, New Guinea is a tropical place. These New Guinea natives look incredibly happy here. Planted green in 4″ pots, they have grown an incredible amount in 28 days, and are now blooming profusely.

There are so many types of gardening-too many to list. To name a few: There are those growers of dwarf conifers, and those gardeners who grow vegetables, and those farmers who grow cut flowers or broom corn. Those people for whom a perennial garden is a continuing source of interest and delight rub shoulders with those gardeners who grow bananas, palms and herbs. Do not forget those who plant trees, or roses, and those who collect cultivars of hydrangeas. Those who plant seasonal containers, and those who plant shade or wildflower gardens have the same issues as those who grow dahlias, rock garden plants or meadow gardens.  The common thread? Plants are very specific about what they need. A gardener who is alerted to and caters to the requirements of the plants will be a successful gardener.

A June planting was an optimal time to plant this particular collection of plants. The plants have responded in kind to that early summer date. Even the view from the outside is a treat.

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At A Glance: Rob’s Pots

To follow is a very lengthy collection of photographs of Rob’s container plantings, but I think the numbers are justified, considering how beautiful the work is. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

French fountain planted with fernsgold sage, gold marjoram, and a glass float

lavender and violas; lettuceWasabi coleus, pinched into a broadly oval shape, and myrtle topiary

bird’s nest fern, lobelia, and creeping jenny in one of his grow spheres.

rosemary, pink marguerites and cream alyssum

herbs with a tilted Russian sage

This galvanized pan with rosemary and herbs got wheeled in and out of the garage on a cart until it was safe to leave the basil outdoors.

tree fern with streptocarpella

coir lined wood crates with verbena bonariensis,  dahlias, marguerites, cream zinnias, angelonia and sweet william

collection of lemon cypress pots and herb pots

eugenia topiaries with yellow petunias

Who knew lettuce could look this good?

pennisetum, yellow celosia and yellow petunias

variegated lavender, marguerites and alyssum

tomatoes and herbs in twig boxesrosemary topiary, lavender and lobelia

coral bells and streptocarpus

containers designed and planted by Rob

ferns and streptocarpus

bok choy, marguerites, osteospermum and cream alyssum

bird’s nest fern, lime selaginella, hosta Sum and Substance, green selaginella

succulents and herbs

tomatoes and weeping rosemary

shade planting at the shop

lettuce, parsley, and violas

rosemary and alyssum

meadow flowers in a wood trough

Strawberries in a moss lined galvanized wire box, looking good.

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The Plantings At The Shop

No matter how many container plantings we do in a given year, planting the shop for the summer is a given planting. I put this close to home project off until the great majority of our clients are planted. Some might think that I take the winter to plan what I will do in the summer shop garden, but I do not. Once we start bringing in annual plants for sale, I keep looking until something triggers a decision. Rob plants a lot of containers for the shop, and this year’s collection is especially good. I could characterize how he composes and plants in the following way. He favors green above all, but lavender, rosemary, and all the the herbs to go with run a close second. He gravitates towards annual plants that are relaxed in habit and subdued in color. A wood box may be filled from start to finish with Grosso lavender. An Italian terra cotta pot may feature a Malabar spinach vine trailed up a rusted rod steel sphere. A vintage galvanized steel trough might be planted with tomatoes and herbs. Slatted wood boxes lined with coir, and planted with verbena bonariensis, peach dahlias and pale yellow marguerites are as casually elegant as they are unstudied. His shade container with bird’s nest ferns and selaginella fly out the door. All of his container plantings are reserved. His touch is light. This year’s shop planting is in admiration and recognition of that work. My idea in the big planting bed was to plant a collection of summer blooming annuals in mixed colors, in a a random and relaxed pattern. Nothing too flashy or fussy; think cream colored marigolds. A strip of brown paper towel down the center of the bed would establish a no plant zone. Weeding a wayward and unstudied planting asks for access.

This planting is dominated by 70 some 1 gallon pots of Sonata cosmos. Of course we laid out those cosmos first. As casually as we imagined Rob would place them. We had no idea if the pots were mixed colors, or a single color. Next to come, lots of the airy growing  nicotiana suaveolens, nicotiana perfume bright rose, lime and white, a few purple angelonia, and cream white marigolds. None of these plants truly meadowy-these are all hybrid tropical plants. But mixed in a casual way. It took my crew all of five minutes to grasp the idea.  In less than 2 hours, we had a garden. I am sure Rob would have never plant the nicotiana Perfume Bright Rose-that was my idea.

Once every plant was in the ground, we watered, and watered again. Watering new plantings is nearly a daily job. Hot weather can be deadly to a plant that has not yet rooted into the surrounding soil. Many annual plants are grown in soilless mixes.  Once that small rootball dries out, look out. Annual plants in the ground or in containers regularly watered with take hold and thrive. Once established, sun loving annual plants are remarkably unfazed by dry soil.

Regular rain and moderate temperatures early in the growing season resulted in a dramatic spring flush on the boxwood. We have held off pruning, as our current temperatures have been in the high eighties. Next week is slated to be much cooler, and Melissa and her crew will prune. A gently geometric pruning will provide a pleasing contrast to the planting.

New this year- we covered the entire planting with a mulch of  ground bark fines.  This will help conserve moisture in the soil, and discourage weeds, although who knows.  Maybe the weeds will look good with the planting. Decades of professional gardening and maintenance has made me a weed pulling, plant staking, dead heading, raking and wash down the driveway kind of gardener. When I say nature bats last, I am also saying that this gardener bats in the clean up position. Having just turned 67, I doubt I will be making any substantial changes to the way I work. This planting is not what I would have done, left to my own devices. But having done it, I will try to leave it be, and see what happens.

The window boxes have a similar feeling, but include some plants not in the ground garden. Dwarf cleome, sky blue petunias, variegated sage and white trailing verbena have been added to the mix.

But for that far too bright rose pink nicotiana, this has something of the feeling of Rob’s compositions.

Those of you who are able to visit Detroit Garden Works know that we have galvanized metal planter boxes that traverse the entire length of the roof that faces our street. From this vantage point, it is easy to see that the boxwood has at least 8 inches of new growth. It will take Melissa and her crew all day to prune it. The plants chosen for the garden are in the 24″ high range. The garden will not be visible from the street. To see it, you will have to walk up the driveway and look in. I have always planted this garden taller than the boxwood. Why? Tradition, for good or for ill. This hedge is now in its 20th year, and despite the ravages of two really terrible winters, is quite something in its own right. It will be the star of the summer show, especially given that both the composition and plant choices are plain and simple. Metaphorically speaking, my gardens usually wear shoes and socks. This garden is decidedly less formal than that.

But back up to the roof garden. The boxes were made to sit on the parapet wall that runs across the front. They are outfitted with irrigation, as climbing up here, hose in hand, requires a substantial extension ladder and no small amount of nerve. It is a hot and windy place. The boxes hold 3 rows of plants. The back row is planted with the lemon lime leaved pineapple sage, and a new white, pink and blue angelonia. This hybrid has very thick stems, and was originally developed for the cut flower trade. Both of these plants like full sun and heat. This new angelonia is reputed to grow 40″ tall. If it does, this row of plants will help to mitigate the effects of the wind for all.

The middle row is comprised of 3 colors of vista petunias, interspersed with white and pink Gaura. The white tinged pink petunia cultivar “Silverberry” was planted in the two center boxes. Then moving towards the edges on both sides, Vista “Bubblegum”, and finally Vista “Fuchsia”. Petunias are the one of the most ordinary annual plants, but this cultivar is a vigorous grower seldom bothered by any problems. We try to stay away from problems on the roof. In the front row, a thick planting of the annual white variegated vinca vine.

We are ready just in time for summer.

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A Plant Collection

The past 9 days have been a grueling blur. Once I establish a rhythm, I plant by instinct. I trust my first thought more than the thoughts that come later. I don’t really have time to second guess my decisions, so I don’t. I cannot imagine how my crews must feel. I feel certain that they needed this Sunday off. My crews have another couple of weeks before this phase of the summer’s work is done. Their work on every project we take on makes me look good. I treasure each and every one of them.  One project that always grabs me by the shoulder and gives me a good shake got planted last week. My container planting for this client dates back  20 years. In the early days, there were lots of flowers. Purples, whites, and some pale pink. Boxwood edged parterres enclosed pink roses. The early container plantings were lovely. Flowery. But like any serious gardener, her taste evolved over the years. There were changes made to the landscape as well. I was always keenly interested in what she had to say about the summer plantings each spring, and challenged by how to interpret that in a way she would like. A project of such long standing and commitment from both myself and the client is a project I treasure. Every year there would be fewer flowers, and a few more green plants. Topiary plants made their appearance. Once we had topiaries, there would be winter storage and care in a greenhouse. Green plants that would visually recall an English conservatory were a favorite of hers. Ferns would figure prominently in the mix. The ferns in the above picture were wintered many times in an unheated greenhouse. They are a beautiful size and proportion for where they are placed.

The wire planters on the front porch are planted fresh every year. We redo the moss lining before we plant. This planting of white Victorian parlor ferns, broad leaved pepperomias, variegated ivy, and variegated tradescantia respects and features the detailed iron filigree of the container. The planter is a delicate foil for the mass of the Kimberly Queen fern. A side note on the Kimberlys – taking the time to pull the past year’s fronds for the new fronds coming on keeps them vigorous and fresh looking.

The back yard terrace and pool yard is home to a number of containers.  Each one chosen and placed over the years. A pair of stone planter boxes that finish off a pair of seat height stone and brick walls are a feature of this terrace. This year’s planting does include white nicotiana and purple and white bicolor nicotiana, in addition to the green carex “Everest” and variegated licorice. A little color contrasts with the collection of primarily green plants.

I draw or write the schemes for most of the containers I plant on paper, or on a photograph of the planting from the previous year. But these planters, and 3 others, I lay out when I get there. After so many years, I have an idea of how many plants to take, and how many more to add so I am sure I have enough material. But it takes being there to determine how the plants will go together.

A pair of antique cast iron planters that sit on the walls got the same treatment. I know what plants I will use, but not how I will plant them until I am standing there. The placing can go fast or slow.

This year’s planting is a mix of lavender, lanai white trailing verbena, tricolor sage,the white variegated carex “Everest” and variegated licorice. The planting is fairly low and does not obstruct the far view. I recommend collecting a group of plants that you like (that share the same optimal conditions for growth) and arrange them until you get a composition you like. This approach will help to make clear if something is missing from the mix.

A majority of the containers are summer homes of a collection of topiary plants. These two boxwood topiaries have been part of the collection a good many years. The containers are large, and we do some judicious root pruning at planting time. The only way to obtain boxwood topiary of this size is to grow them yourself. Evergreens in pots can be wintered over in Michigan, but it is not easy. It is tough to get the watering right, and a fiercely cold and windy winter can damage or kill the hardiest of boxwood. No matter the size of the containers, the roots are still above ground. These boxwood are put in an unheated greenhouse space for the winter. The pot in the foreground is under planted with silver ferns.  In the back, the big glossy leaves of pepperomia “Jayde” is a textural contrast to the small leaves of the boxwood.

In the foreground is a paddle leaved ficus with a braided trunk – charming.  It is under planted with white flowering thyme. Another large Kimberly fern is planted in a pot that sits on top of the wall.

This ficus is a variety that is new to me, and new to this collection. No topiary plant lives for decades, so any collection has to be updated regularly. I hope we can manage to keep this one happy for a while. That won’t be simple. A tropical plant grows at a much faster rate than a boxwood. There will come a time when it no longer fits this container, or it becomes overgrown in an unattractive way.

The opposite corner has another new topiary – a lemon tree. We under planted it with parsley. The boxwood topiary is under planted with tibouchina, which will bloom with large blue/purple flowers if the season is long and hot enough. If not the felted green leaves are beautiful.

Closer to the boxwood hedge which encloses the fountain is a collection of pots clustered around an antique English double sided bench. The footed pots had for many years been home to a pair of variegated boxwood that finally succumbed. In their place this year, Chicago figs, and crinkle leaf pepperomias.

Four steel boxes from Branch anchor the north and south side of the terrace. I always plant all four with white mandevillea, although the under planting may change. At the four corners of the boxwood rectangle, 4 English made wood boxes.  They are planted this year with spikes (the most underrated of all the green container plants), white XXL dahlias, sky blue and white petunias, and variegated licorice.  This is a traditional and formal container planting that is appropriate for the place.

The new plant in the steel containers is not blooming yet. Felicia amelloides, or blue daisy bush, will provide a small touch of color.

This is the third year for the Duranta on standard.  They do not lend themselves to formal pruning, which is good.  They have a graceful if irregular natural shape.

Limelight hydrangea on standard, fig, and eugenia topiary

The far left pot has a 1 gallon size black and blue salvia which is under planted with a dwarf nicotiana. The topiaries (not yet pruned for the season) include a eugenia, a pair of white lantana, an old rosemary, and at the last, a scented geranium on standard.

The terra cotta long tom is planted with mixed sonata cosmos. The topiary underplantings are simple.

The long window box

planting day

sky planting

limestone planter on top of a wall

When we get to this corner of the pool yard, I know we are just about ready to wrap it up. How fortunate to have a project like this to plant.

 

 

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